It is time to look ahead and talk about the coaching staff, Yes, the Vikings could close the season with a winning record at home in 2013 if they beat the Lions Sunday in the last game played at the Metrodome. It is even possible that the Vikings' defense will step up and hold the Lions to less than 23 points, which is so far the lowest point total of any opponent the Vikings have played in 2013.
Nevertheless, it is time to talk about the future of the Minnesota Vikings football club. Leslie Frazier has had many chances, and a playoff appearance, but an 0-7-1 road record, an atrocious defense, and no signs of improvement in 2013 paint a grim picture of his chances of getting another year as Vikings' head coach. Frazier's abysmal divisional record in his tenure as the eighth Viking's head coach does nothing to rescue him from the chopping block.
When we consider Frazier's career with the Vikings, it's important to highlight the good. Among the positives that we will remember Frazier's tenure as head coach for are Frazier's good character, the good character of the people Frazier aligned all around him, and Frazier sticking with a player during legal troubles and giving him a chance to be vindicated by the courts (Chris Cook). It is a mark of courage to stick by a guy who people were taking potshots at in the media. In the end, Cook was vindicated by the courts. While he has never gone to the Pro Bowl, Chris Cook had to be treated fairly, and Frazier did just that. Frazier guided the Vikings through turmoil including the roof collapse at the Metrodome. Frazier led the Vikings to the playoffs last year. Adrian Peterson ran for over 2,000 yards in 2012. These are all marks in Frazier's favor.
That said, unless the Vikings defeat the Lions 50-0 on Sunday with the defense intercepting Stafford six times, it is simply unlikely that Frazier will remain as head coach. Even that would not be good enough considering that the Lions are now self-destructing this season.
Let's consider teams that have won the Super Bowl. Including in recent years, all of them have effective defenses that make clutch plays. There has never been a team that won the Super Bowl purely on offense. All Super Bowl championship teams have had the NFL's best mix of offense, defense, and special teams. All Super Bowl championship teams could run the ball effectively against tough defenses. All Super Bowl championship teams have been able to win big games against big opponents on the road. It's no surprise that good defense and running the ball have gone along with winning big road games, and winning Super Bowls.
The Vikings' defense is shattered. Whether we call it the "Tampa Two" or something else, it has not fit with what the Vikings' personnel is good at. A Tampa Two puts the spotlight on the middle linebacker, who must be exceptionally athletic and make plays all over the field. The problem with that approach is that there are only so many all-time great middle linebackers out there, and even if the Vikings have one who will reach that level in time currently on the roster, the Tampa Two defense would be one injury away from becoming as feckless as the Vikings' defense in 2013.
Historically, there has not been any real advantage in running the 4-3 or the 3-4. What matters is that the defense fits the personnel.
The Vikings have historically been lacking in stopping the run. This has resulted in the Vikings having an all-time 5-18 road record in the playoffs, as opposed to the Vikings' 13-8 all-time home playoff record. Winning playoff games and other big games on the road requires a good running game, and a defense that can stop the run. For this reason, we have to admit that the Vikings were on the right track as Childress led the Vikings to a #1-rated defense against the run for several years in the late 2000s. Furthermore, the Vikings rushing attack was good. Childress made his share of mistakes. He is gone, and he is not coming back.
What made the Vikings' defense exceptional against the run in those years was not the Tampa Two system, but instead the defensive line. Most importantly, the nose tackle position, played by Pat Williams. When combined with future Hall of Famer Kevin Williams at under tackle, playing the three technique, our tandem of defensive tackles were both stout and constantly counterattacking offenses, putting them on their heels. The Vikings have lacked a quality nose tackle since the retirement of Pat Williams, and this is a need for the 2014 offseason.
It is the Vikings' pass defense that continues to get the most attention on the defensive side, and rightly so. Even in games in which the Vikings have done well against the psas, the Vikings' coaches made sure to switch to a Tampa Two or prevent defense, or some other useless scheme, and the shelling began anew. A number of us have called on the Vikings to abandon the Tampa Two, except perhaps as an "exotic look" once or twice a game, and this call has not been heeded.
The plain fact is that the defense has worsened considerably under Frazier, and Frazier is at the root of the Vikings' Tampa Two base defensive scheme. These facts alone requires Leslie Frazier to be fired after the Lions game.
The Vikings next head coach should be one who will keep the 4-3. The Vikings have numerous defensive linemen who are optimally suited for the 4-3, and in a passing league, having 4 defensive line pass rushers remains strategically imperative for the Vikings. In a league where about half of the teams play the 3-4, and 3-4 outside linebackers are hard to find, while 4-3 defensive ends are easier to find, the decision to stick with the 4-3 is a no-brainer.
That said, the Tampa Two must be relegated to the dustbin. There is nothing wrong with mixing in zone coverage schemes, but to rely on exclusively zone or exclusively man coverage is not a winning strategy in today's NFL.
The Vikings' defensive strategy must be to besiege the opponent's offense, to constantly and unpredictably challenge everything they are trying to do.
Joe Woods, Vikings DB coach, simply needs to be fired on Monday, after the Lions game. I am sick and tired of watching dozens of young DBs come through our system since 2006, when he started with the Vikings, and not seeing a single one of them become a significantly better player than when they started under Woods. Woods is a Tampa Two man, and he must go.
The Vikings' defensive line has only worsened under assistant DL coach Brendan Daly, and he too must be fired.
Assistant Head Coach/Assistant Linebackers coach Mike Singletary is going to have the same fate as Leslie Frazier, and so it is time to fire him too.
On Monday, Spielman should re-sign Fred Pagac, the Vikings linebackers coach, to a one-year contract. Pagac has been an effective linebackers coach. As we have seen with Audie Cole and others, he is capable of doing much good. If the new head coach absolutely must replace Pagac, it can be done later, but re-signing Pagac on Monday will keep a good coach on the team.
On defensive coordinator Alan Williams, I don't know if he is definitely a Tampa Two guy, but in light of the Vikings' defense there is simply no alternative but to fire him.
Enough with the talk of the defense. It is time to move to the offense.
The Vikings' offense begins and ends with Adrian Peterson, and this will remain the case. The game against the Eagles this year was telling. The Vikings exploded for 48 points without Peterson. This did not say much about the Vikings' offense, as the Eagles' defense was horrible and the Vikings were at home. What it did do was reveal that offensive coordinator Musgrave is coaching the Vikings not to maximize the strengths of Peterson and or to minimize his weaknesses.
Adrian Peterson is not the greatest running back of all time. He may be the greatest running back in terms of running the ball, but that is not all the position requires. Yes, he had some fumbles this year. In two key areas, pass blocking and pass catching, Peterson is average at best. Despite having years with the Vikings, Musgrave has not been able to design the offense to deal with the player that Peterson is. Musgrave's offense is designed for a running back like Toby Gerhart or Matt Asiata, not Adrian Peterson.
The Vikings need to have a one-two punch at running back. While Peterson is an all-time great, he regularly gets the offense into trouble with his mediocre blitz reading, pass blocking, and and pass catching. When Peterson is on the field, the Vikings' have a strong need to run the ball, because otherwise the every down solid pass blocking and pass catching that Musgrave's offense requires just isn't there. Regardless of how the offense is designed, it can and must be designed better.
It is time to change out running backs coaches again. While James Saxon helped Peterson to his 2,000 yard season, and was a breath of fresh air at running backs coach, he is not the running backs coach the Vikings need. We need a running backs coach who can improve Peterson in reading the defense, pass blocking, and pass catching.
At wide receiver, we once again talk about George Stewart and his group which has never had a pro bowler outside of Sidney Rice and Percy Harvin despite him being WR coach since 2006. It is amazing how he is talked about as such a good coach when year after year the Vikings receiver corps underproduces. This year, the most touchdown catches of any Vikings' wide receiver is 4, by Greg Jennings. Yes, 4. Four touchdown catches. And we have one receiver who has done that. I don't really care if the Vikings' offense goes for seven touchdown passes against the Lions on Sunday, this has been another cruel year for those waiting for the Vikings' receiver corps to come alive. As for Sidney Rice and Percy Harvin, they never improved while they were Vikings. They were good coming out of college, and that was all they ever were for the Vikings. George Stewart is no doubt a great human being and a great football coach, but he is terrible as an NFL wide receivers coach, and for that reason he must be fired on Monday.
As for the Vikings's offensive line, tight ends, and quarterbacks coaches, they all must be fired on Monday. There is simply nothing going right with these groups.
That leaves us with Musgrave, who clearly must be fired as offensive coordinator on Monday.
On special teams, finding a good coordinator is really hard, and Mike Priefer has done a mostly outstanding job. Yes, his units have given up some return touchdowns this year, including the devastating one in Baltimore, but if the rest of the Vikings ran as well as the special teams corps, we would be Super Bowl contenders. Locke has outperformed what Kluwe had done, and Priefer is vindicated by Locke's season. For these reasons, I believe the Vikings should offer Priefer a 2-year or longer deal as special teams coordinator, and not allow the new head coach to remove him.
Notice that I did not even have to talk about the quarterback position to reach any of these conclusions.
Summary: Re-sign Pagac to 1-year contract. Re-sign Priefer to 2-year contract.
Fire: Frazier, Singletary, Alan Williams, Musgrave, Joe Woods, George Stewart, Brendan Daly, Craig Johnson, Jeff Davidson, Jimmie Johnson, and James Saxon.
To all of the coaches who will part ways with the Vikings after this season, I would like to say thank you for your service to my favorite team. While the results of the team speak for themselves, the current group of coaches have had lots of successes, and have lots of coaching talent. It hasn't worked out and it is time to make these changes. One thing these coaches have done that should be held up high is creating a culture of high character. As the next coaching staff comes in, Spielman should require that the standard raised by this group, led by Leslie Frazier, should be kept and maintained.
It's too early to evaluate GM Rick Spielman for possible firing. He needs more time as Vikings' GM. Spielman has never had a chance to hire a head coach or draft a quarterback high in his role as Vikings' GM. Frazier became coach in 2010. Ponder was drafted in 2011. Spielman was named GM in 2012.